NEW YORK CITY—The auto elite thinks little of spending millions on certain vintage Ferraris, and the owners of one high-end Pininfarina-bodied example turned down $22 million at auction.
But I was stopped cold by the McLaren P1 GTR I encountered at the New York International Auto Show this past week. Get this: You have to already own a $1.3-million-plus roadgoing P1 to buy one, then pay an additional $2.9 million for the GTR—a car you can only drive on the track. Can you imagine having so much money that you’d spend millions for a few afternoons of adrenaline rush per year? Who are these stupidly rich, anyway?
McLaren, which has a separate racing division, describes it thusly:
Without road-car regulations to hold it back, the McLaren P1 GTR will push everything to the limit. Available only to McLaren P1 owners, production of the track-focused GTR will begin when the 375th and final road car has been built.
The GTR is an out-and-out race car, with which the owner can compete against other enthusiasts who were also to the manor born. Actually-- wait-- manors (forgive the pun) don't get you anywhere with this crowd. These folks started hedge funds. Maybe several of them. The GTR's mid-mounted engine produces 986 horsepower.
“It’s a bespoke race series,” spokesman Wayne Bruce told me. “You get six sessions at Formula One tracks, and we fly you and your car to the race circuits with other owners.” Only 40 of the cars will be made, and the program starts in September.
I know, I know, this is Car Talk--we're used to writing buying advice for everyday schmoes who like their cars the way they like their radio hosts--old, cheap, and with parts falling off. And can you imagine anyone from Car Talk driving to work in a P1 GTR? Well, they couldn’t anyway—it’s a track-only car, remember?
Talking about McLarens for a while, you lose perspective about pricing. I went to the introduction of the company’s 570S in New York. At $184,900, it's the McLaren for hedge fund failures. There’s an even cheaper version, the 540C, for China—just $160,000! You still get a 562-horsepower supercar, with zero to 62 coming up in 3.2 seconds, and a top speed of 204 mph.
McLaren’s been in racing for a long time, more than 50 years, but it’s absolutely new as a company that sells cars to mortals of the highest caste. The first one was sold in 2011, I’m told by McLaren’s global sales and marketing chief, Jolyon Nash, an ex-Rolls-Royce guy.
Nash describes the 570S and the little brother 540C as “global cars,” and it’s clear they’re aimed at the kind of buyer who takes home a Porsche Turbo, Tesla Model S, and perhaps an Aston-Martin Vantage on the same day because, well, why not? Compared to the P1 GTR, of course, these are mass-market cars, and they’re designed to ramp up McLaren’s sales in a big way. In 2014, McLaren sold 1,649 cars, which is a lot for a niche supercar company, but adding the 570S could easily double or triple the volume. Expect other versions in this Sport Series, including a convertible Spyder.
Automakers offer these ultra-expensive cars because, well, in this stratified global economy, there are buyers for them. Another recent addition to the stable is the Lykan HyperSport, capable of 240 mph, and carrying a price tag of, gulp, $3.4 million. The headquarters is in... wait for it... Dubai.
As Automotive News opines:
The past few years have seen an explosion of royals and tycoons around the globe who buy entire fleets of Aston Martins and Lamborghinis to support their proclivities....They buy the cars in Los Angeles, Doha, Moscow, Sao Paulo and Shanghai. Some, like hotel tycoon Steve Wynn, buy them to bolster their business interests just as much as their personal life. For them, it's not that big a deal.
Remember how Grey Poupon sold a lot of Rolls-Royces? Well, bringing in a marketing guy from there makes a lot of sense for McLaren. The cars are completely different, but the appeal is kind of similar—a really exclusive car that says you’ve made it... again and again. Even your agent and your account have made it, thanks to you. Cue the rap stars, Middle East potentates and Greenwich, Connecticut money men. It’s shock and awe-- make that awe-stentatiousness-- for your neighbors. If they can see over your security fencing and past the cameras.
If you're tempted by the P1 GTR, and have the keys to The Donald's money bin, here's some video that will help secure your place in line (it wouldn't be exclusive without a line):
P.S.Think twice, though, because it just might make you a schmuck. Just saying.